President-elect Petro Poroshenko set Ukraine on a collision course with Russia even before the last vote had been counted, vowing to step up operations to rein in separatists in the east of the country.
“There will be a sharp increase in the efficiency of anti-terrorist operations,” Poroshenko said in Kiev yesterday. “They won’t last two or three months; they’ll last a few hours.” In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that any escalation would be a “colossal mistake.”
The difficulty of Poroshenko’s task was clear in Donetsk, where paratroopers, helicopters and warplanes were deployed after rebels ignored an ultimatum to leave the local airport. A clash between government forces and gunmen near the city’s railway station left one dead, Novosti Donbassa reported.
Poroshenko is faced with a shrinking economy and a pro-Russian separatist movement that’s captured large swathes of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, threatening to rip the former Soviet republic apart. Russia annexed the Black Sea Crimean peninsula in March.
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Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that the U.S. “respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, condemns and rejects Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, and remains committed to working with Ukraine and other partners to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”
Yet in Donetsk, the election brought no lull in the violence. As evening fell, fighter aircraft were again seen in the skies and explosions were heard in the city, with renewed fighting near the railway station, the Ostrov news website reported. The Novosti Donbassa news agency reported that a column of about 40 trucks carrying armed men was seen in Russia approaching the border with the Donetsk region.
Ukrainian government forces blocked all roads heading north of Donetsk to the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk as fighting continued there and in the southern coastal port Mariupol.
Another group of rebels crossed the border from Russia in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region after a firefight with government forces, Ukraine’s Border Service said in a statement on its website. Ukrainian troops killed one insurgent, wounded another and captured three of the fewer than 10 vehicles that tried to break through, Border Service press officer Oleg Slobodyan said by phone. No Ukrainian troops were killed.
In his first comments after the vote, Poroshenko said May 25 he’d seek to end the “war, chaos and disorder” by visiting the troubled eastern regions and working with Russia. Ukraine’s Central Election Commission declared him the winner with 54.4 percent of the vote, after 94 percent of ballots had been counted, Novosti Donbassa said.
Lavrov said the fact the vote was held is positive and reiterated President Vladimir Putin’s earlier pledge to respect the election’s outcome. There’s now an opportunity to establish a “mutually respectful, equal dialog,” he said.
While Poroshenko and Lavrov rattled sabers, Ukraine and Russia took a step toward rapprochement on the divisive issue of natural-gas payments during talks in Berlin.
Poroshenko said he’d call early parliamentary elections in 2014 as the nation seeks to draw a line under the rule of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian-backed leader who fled for Moscow in February after deadly street protests backing closer European ties.
With a fortune of $1 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Poroshenko has flaunted his business acumen and promised to boost wages by nurturing employment and gearing the economy toward Europe through a trade pact. He reiterated yesterday that he’d sell his assets that include the Roshen chocolate company and will hire a bank to help.
To contact the reporters on this story: Daryna Krasnolutska in Kiev at firstname.lastname@example.org; Daria Marchak in Kiev at email@example.com; Volodymyr Verbyany in Kiev at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at email@example.com Michael Winfrey, Andrea Dudik